Volume XI, Issue 39 ~ September 25 - October 1, 2003

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Burton on the Bay

Fishing After the Deluge

And now the storm-blast came and he
Was tyrannous and strong;
He struck with his o’ertaking wings
— The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798

In that still popular poem, change the he and the his to she and hers, and you’ve got Isabel, whether you choose to call her Hurricane Isabel or Tropical Storm Isabel.

I noted late last Thursday afternoon that NOAA Weather Radio had downgraded Isabel to the latter in these parts, but methinks we need not be reminded that in 1972 Agnes was categorized as a tropical storm — and she’s being blamed by many Bay watchers for many of today’s Chesapeake woes.

I presume much depends on geography as to whether Agnes was worse than Isabel or vice-versa. Tell those people of the Bay Country in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties that Isabel was less catastrophic than Agnes, and they’ll swat you in the mug with the mop they’ve been using to clean the muck out of their homes, cars, business and boats.

Nearly a week after Isabel’s arrival, so tyrannous, strong and with her o’ertaking wings, the daily press and television have filled us with the visuals of the havoc she wrought in much of Chesapeake Bay Country, from nearly wiped-out Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County to Havre de Grace and its wiped-out Susquehanna Flats promenade in Harford County.

So we’ll leave details of that type of destruction to the other media — certainly not because we don’t appreciate the tangible losses in property and lives but because those stories have already been well documented. Our inconveniences are hardly worth mentioning as I write late Monday night — still no electricity at the offices of Bay Weekly and operations temporarily moved to Alex Knoll’s home in Annapolis uphill from the downtown docks that were inundated early Friday.

We’re getting out another edition, thanks to the Computer Age that can bring all the words together via e-mail and staff resourcefulness. At my home in Riviera Beach on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County within a few miles of the Chesapeake, there was no electricity for 18 hours combined. Who needs power when outside gathering boughs and branches and raking up debris?

Fortunately, the Burton household sits atop a wooded cliff perhaps 75 feet above the mean high tide level of Stoney Creek close to its confluence with the Patapsco, the big river that carried the horrendous tide on by us to flood the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and so many businesses, homes, marinas, motor vehicles, boats and such of the city. What’s a bit of dragging tree fall, raking debris and going without power? Nothing, that’s what.

Looking in a Gunky Crystal Ball
Let’s forget for the moment about the so obvious destruction of Isabel, and speculate what the still unknown can mean to our Chesapeake and its aquatic inhabitants.

“What else can be done to oysters?” is the way Pete Jensen, deputy secretary of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, put it when I asked him what effects Isabel might have on those shellfish. It’s possible all the silt in the turbulent Bay could have an impact, he said, and the situation will be watched. But it’s too early to evaluate.

On the day Isabel struck, I phoned Howard King, DNR’s director of fisheries, on another matter, and he mentioned he was concerned about what the storm, then approaching land in North Carolina, might mean to the Bay’s crabs. Heaven knows that like oysters, crabs don’t need another hit.

You see, for a while now female crabs have been moving to the lower Bay to spawn. The eggs and larva are swept by currents, many go to the ocean, most to be carried back into the Bay as currents change. Howard’s concern was this: Depending on the forces associated with a major storm, how many would end up too far away to make it back?

There is still another aspect of all of this also associated with the dynamics of the ocean. Those who fish the Atlantic need not be reminded that its waters have been exceptionally chilly this year, disrupting much offshore fishing. Tuna and billfish especially have stayed far offshore where waters are warmer.

Deep down, ocean waters near shore have been unusually cold, in some places below 50 degrees. Crab larva and eggs ride deep, close to the floor of the ocean, which poses the question of what this might mean to those that have been carried to the mouth of the Bay — or even farther out. King is on vacation this week (he scrubbed plans to visit North Carolina and headed to Ocean City) so he was unavailable for comment. Jensen’s fingers are crossed. He said anything is possible, but he’s hoping for the best.

One thing about this storm and it’s impact is that, unlike Agnes, Isabel didn’t have the awesome freshwater runoff of that ’72 storm. We didn’t get all the rain that was feared. But in many places the Bay is mighty gunky. Its discolored waters can hide jetsam that can do in props and hulls — and with Agnes both turbidity and jetsam were around for many weeks.

Another concern: What about all the sewage overflow and oil and fuel from inundated autos and capsized boats and such? It, of course, ends up in the Bay, and that’s another worry.

One last thing about Isabel. Let’s hope her impact doesn’t create another scapegoat. You know how it goes: Many times when a particular Bay woe is raised to this day, and curtailments are called for, there are still some who are looking for excuses. They blame things on Agnes of 31 years ago.

Enjoying What We’ve Got
But over the past weekend, some fishermen took advantage of the weather, and they caught fish. Capt. Bruce Scheible, who fishes the lower Bay, reported catching bluefish, big hardheads, many rockfish, and some sea trout.

Capt. Buddy Harrison of Tilghman said chumming brought aboard limits of rockfish down his way — and chumming is what we’ll be doing Sunday Oct. 12, saying to Isabel, in effect, you might have disrupted things for a while, but where going back on the Bay to enjoy its bounty.

Readers, you’re invited. The tab for fishing, a box lunch and a crab buffet when the boats return to the docks is $100. Boats won’t leave the docks until 8am to make it easier for those traveling from long distances.

Special overnighting rates are available for those who’d rather not rise long before daylight. All you need do is to call Harrison’s Chesapeake House at 410/886-2121 or 410/886-2123 and sign up. Be sure and tell them you’re with the Burton party, which makes you eligible for the special rates. They will give my coordinator Alan Doelp the list of participants so we can make boat assignments. Don’t be late. Snooze and you lose.

The chumming should be good, the rockfish of nice size and the camaraderie tops as usual. If you arrive the evening before, look me up. I’ll be there. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the morning.

Let’s go fishing, enjoy what we have and hope for the best. Enough said …



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Last updated September 25, 2003 @ 12:57am